Monday, December 14, 2015

Advent 3: John of the Cross

Santa Maria sopre Minerva in
Rome.  St. Catherine of Siena
is entombed here

I'm always momentarily taken aback when the feast of St. John of the Cross appears in Advent — as it does almost every year (well, not last year, and not in 2025, or any other year the 14th of December falls on a Sunday).  The feast of St. Lucy which precedes it by a day, with its candle adorned maidens, seems like a better fit for this season of light and birth than John of the Cross, consigned to a dungeon by his Carmelite confreres, mired in a darkness both literal and spiritual.

I pulled out a copy of his poetry, written during those months of confinement, this afternoon to read.   I had forgotten about his triad of poems on the incarnation (maybe because most scholars diss them as "perfunctory") but today found them again, tucked into the appendix.

The last poem of the cycle plays with the tension that I always feel around the incarnation, or at least the current celebration of it, between the sweet, warm scene at the manger and the cold reality of it all.  Mary, stripped of God's presence within her.  Her son, the Word, left wordless.  Maybe John of the Cross' dark nights are not so far off the mark.
Pero Dios en el pesebre
allí lloraba y gemía,
que eran joyas que la esposa
al desposorio traía. 
Y la Madre estaba en pasmo
de que tal trueque veía:
el llanto del hombre en Dios,
y en el hombre la alegría,
lo cual del uno y del otro
tan ajeno ser solía.
But God-in-the-manger
wept and moaned
His tears, jewels
brought to this marriage-bed. 
His mother wonders
at the exchange:
God laments as man
while man rejoices in God;
Each tastes what
was once the other's
sole domain.
Read the whole thing here.

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